Shabbat Parashat Masei | 5768
This Land is My Land?
Before his death, Moshe was told to set up the apparatus to divide up the Land, as Bnei Yisrael prepared to enter and capture Eretz Yisrael. He appointed the overall leaders for the project, Yehoshua and Elazar, the nation’s incoming political and spiritual leaders, respectively, along with ten leaders of tribes who were to receive their portions west of the Jordan. The root for receiving land is nachol (roughly, “take possession”). Regarding Yehoshua and Elazar, the Torah says “yinchala lachem et ha’aretz” (they will take possession of the Land for you) (Bamidbar 34:17), using the verb form of kal, which is usually used for one who receives land for himself (see Siftei Chachamim and Da’at Mikra). Regarding the heads of the tribes, it uses the same form of linchol et ha’aretz (in the infinitive instead of future) (ibid.:18). In the summation after the list, it says “lenachel et Bnei Yisrael” (to have Bnei Yisrael take possession) (ibid.:29). Here the Torah uses the form of pi’el, indicating that they gave possession directly to the people. What does the change teach about the process?
There are two possible extreme ways to perceive the leaders’ role in dividing up the Land. One is judicial. Every person has an equal right to land in the Land. Respected people from throughout the nation supervise to ensure that they are not cheated. Another possibility is that individuals do not have absolute rights. Rather, the nation has resources, which it can distribute in any logical manner that is decided legislatively. The powers may consider not only what is fair from the recipients’ perspective but what makes sense for the nation’s welfare.
The Torah strikes a conceptual balance between the extremes. Yehoshua and Elazar received the Land as if it was their own, not for personal advancement but for the nation’s best interests. Moshe had already agreed to change plans and give two and a half tribes land earlier in the periphery because their request was logical. The new leaders, while led by a Divine lottery, could consider the needs of the nation and the Land. The secondary “land-dividers” were not to be impartial judges, but leaders who represented their tribes’ interests. Finally, the Torah continued, that they had a function of giving possession of the Land to the people. Indeed everyone had rights to receive a fair portion, and the leaders ensured it.
This dichotomy surfaces at the end of the parasha and sefer. Tzlufchad’s daughters upheld their father’s individual right to a portion. Their tribe argued that they collectively should not lose. A solution that met the needs of each was found.
In closing, as a member of the Nation of the Land of Israel, one has rights to a portion of it. However, he should know that not only can he ask what his country (geographically and socially) can do for him, he should ask himself how he can use his portion to further his country.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
Yitzchak Eizik Ben Yehuda Leib a"h,
whose Yahrtzeit is the
29th of Av
as well as
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.